NOTE: This is a significantly revised version of a much earlier post published on 11/9/2010 that I have since deleted.
The Stonebridge Automatic Folding Candle Lantern was patented and manufactured by Charles H. Stonebridge in 1906 and quickly became one of the most popular camping equipment items of the day. In World War I it served as the U. S. Army issued Medical Corp lantern and field lantern in addition to being selected for use by the Canadian armed forces and the armies of several European nations. A number of camping how-to books and dozens of magazine articles recommended the Stonebridge lantern, which can be seen in old book illustrations and photographs of early campers. Some of the authors that specifically mentioned or recommended the Stonebridge lantern include –
- Edward Breck – The Way of the Woods; A Manual for Sportsmen in Northeastern United States and Canada (1908), G. P. Putman’s Sons, New York, NY
- Francis Buzzacott – Buzzacott’s Masterpiece, or the Complete Hunter’s, Trapper’s, & Camper’s Library of Valuable Information, (1913), McMains & Meyer Publishers, Milwaukee, WI
- Horace Kephart – The Book of Camping And Woodcraft: Guidebook For Those Who Travel In The Wilderness, (1910) and Camping and Woodcraft, a two volume set, Vol. 1 Camping (1917), Macmillan Publishing, New York, NY
- Calvin Rutstrum – The New Way of the Wilderness (1958), Macmillan Publishing, New York, NY
- Stewart Edward White – Camp and Trail (1907), Outers Publishing Company, New York, NY
Stonebridge lanterns were produced in galvanized steel, solid brass and aluminum. Woodcraft author Stewart Edward White highly recommended the galvanized model while author Horace Kephart recommended the brass version. Aluminum models were generally not recommended as the aluminum of the day was very soft and could not take the abuses of camping without soon being bent out of shape. Interestingly, Kephart’s own surviving lantern is an aluminum model.
Kephart’s own Stonebridge lantern.
Courtesy of the Hunter Library Special Collections and the Mountain Heritage Center Special Exhibit:
“Horace Kephart: Revealing An Enigma”
The Stonebridge was an ingenious, feature-packed lantern. It had a flat, internal wind shield located beneath the peaked “roof” of the lantern. The wind shield, designed to protect the candle flame in high wind, contained an opening for smoke to exit the lantern. The lantern windows were made of isinglass (thin sheets of mica), a material that is transparent rather than crystal clear. Isinglass is somewhat flexible and more resistant to breakage than glass sheet but pressing on it too hard leaves whitish, cloudy spots that cannot be repaired. Isinglass is remarkably durable. Surviving Stonebridge lanterns manufactured more than 100 years ago are regularly found with the isinglass windows fully intact. However, the method used by Stonebridge to install the isinglass makes it nearly impossible to replace a window if damaged or missing.
The lantern also featured adjustable air vents that regulated the amount of air entering the lantern.
The floor of the Stonebridge featured a self-adjusting flexible wire candle holder and 6 rows of small round vent holes to admit air and allow for drainage if water were to enter the lantern. These vent holes are a bit of a nuisance as melted candle wax can (and occasionally does) drip out of them when the lantern is in use.
The lantern back was of a solid sheet that featured a brass rimmed port to allow the lantern to be hung on a nail. It also featured a wire bail from which the lantern could be carried or suspended.
Of course, the most important feature was its ability to collapse into a flat, rectangular box that took up little space in the crate, pack or warbag. Dimensions of the Stonebridge lantern are: Folded: 4 1/8” x 7” x 1 /2”. Unfolded: 4 1/8” wide, 4 /2” deep, 10” high to the top of the peak of the “roof” and 14” including the extended wire bail.
The Stonebridge lantern was such an important part of camping for so long, when America entered the modern lightweight backpacking age, one of the most popular candle lanterns turned out to be a Japanese copy of the Stonebridge in aluminum alloy. I owned one of these lantern back then but at the time did not know of it’s historical connection. If you would like to see the Japanese copy in 1970’s action, I recommend you check out the “Backpacker & Hiker’s Handbook” by William Kemsley Jr. (Stackpole Books, 2008). Kemsley was the founder of Backpacker Magazine and the book is chock full of 1970’s hiking photos, many of which show this interesting lantern.
1970’s backpacking candle lantern was a copy of the Stonebridge lantern
Because I consider the Stonebridge lantern to be so quintessential to a traditional camp it was the very first item I purchased when beginning to assemble my woodcraft camp kit. Rather than choosing an original, I chose a rustproof solid brass replica from Lee Valley Tools of Ogdensburg, NY (no longer stocked). It now appears that Garrett Wade is the only firm that carries it. As the price was recently reduced, it may be that Garrett Wade plans to clear out their remaining stock.
As I had not seen an actual Stonebridge lantern, I believed the replica to be exact with the exception of having differently shaped air vents. I’ve since discovered that the replica is quite different. For a start, the dimensions are not the same: The Replica Dimensions Folded: 4 3/8” x 6 1/4” x 1 /2”. Unfolded: 4 1/4” wide, 4/3/8” deep, 6 1/8” high to the top of the peak of the “roof” and 12” including the extended wire bail. Second, the stampings on the top of the lantern have been altered.
Genuine and replica Stonebridge Lanterns side by side
The original stamping that included the manufacturer’s name and the various patent dates, included the phrase “Made in the USA”. This is absent from the Indian-made replica. The vent holes are also different, not only in shape (round holes instead of vertical slots) but they are not adjustable. The floor of the replica is of solid brass sheet and the spring clip that releases the lantern bottom for folding is also different in looks and function.
This side view of the genuine and replica lanterns shows the differences in the shape and design of the vent holes
Still, despite these changes, the Stonebridge replica makes a great traditional camp lantern because it is sturdy, it is rustproof, it does not drip candle wax through the bottom, and the isinglass windows are mounted in such a that they can be replaced if need be. However, while I’ve been entirely happy with my replica, I’ve wanted a vintage Stonebridge lantern after seeing a nice original example a couple of years ago.
Stamping on genuine lantern
Stamping on replica lantern
Because galvanized steel versions made up the bulk of the company’s lantern production, nice originals often come up for sale on eBay, priced around $50-$100.00. Brass models must have been made in very small numbers as I’ve yet to see one. Aluminum models are only slightly less rare. In ten years, I’ve only seen two. The first one was out of my reach and the next one I bought. It’s just like Horace Kephart’s personal lantern!
My example is in good condition considering it is aluminum. I can attest to the fact that the aluminum lanterns are very soft indeed. It is difficult to fold and unfold the thing without bending it out of shape. In addition, the various components of original Stonebridge lanterns where held together with tiny steel rivets. The aluminum sheet is so soft, that with even moderate use, the large end of these rivets can wallow out the hole they are in, causing them to fall out, particularly those that hold the air vent adjustment. In fact, the aluminum lanterns are so soft, if I were packing one for camp, I would put it in a sturdy, rigid cardboard box for protection.
Since I can use my sturdy brass reproduction for camping, I may simply display this Kephart lantern clone. If you desire an authentic camping light from the woodcraft period, you simply must add a Stonebridge Automatic Folding Candle Lantern to your camp kit.